As an escape from the Hollywood machine that hired him for products like Maid in Manhattan and Last Holiday, filmmaker Wayne Wang returns to his roots with a personal immigrant-experience story like those he told early in his career (Chan Is Missing, Dim Sum). Adapted by Yiyun Li from her collection of Chinese-American short stories, Wang's sharply lensed A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is so buoyant and decidedly modest in tone and scale that you almost believe it might float away from the screen. A self-proclaimed "rocket scientist," retired widower Mr. Shi (Henry O, a convivial composite of Down by Law's note-taking tourist Roberto Benigni with the slouchy, Magoo-ish demeanor of Monsieur Hulot) arrives in small-town America to visit his divorced daughter, Yilan (Faye Yu), after a dozen years apart. While the exasperated Yilan spends most days avoiding her pop and his culturally/generationally misguided attempts to rescue her, Mr. Shi ventures out to lap up the local flavor, chatting up random shopkeepers, sunbathers, and Mormons. Most memorable are his park-bench visits with an old Iranian woman, each enjoying the other's company without speaking the same dialect (smartly, the scenes aren't subtitled). There's nothing earth-shattering going on here, but it's a film you'll want to befriend.
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